Example #1: Betty Patton, Recycling Advocates
Boycott of PVC in Portland, Oregon
In this interview, Ms. Patton talks to the Community Tool Box about a successful boycott by members of her organization, Recycling Advocates, against companies that used packaging containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC). We thank Ms. Patton for sharing her time and expertise.
CTB: Tell us about your group and its experience with boycotts.
BP: Recycling Advocates is an all-volunteer organization; a grassroots kind of thing that has about 130 members. We do exactly what our name implies: we advocate recycling as well as waste prevention. Part of the instigation for this PVC boycott was the fact that we were just beginning recycling plastic bottles in the region, and PVC was a huge contaminant. We realized, for the most part, that PVC didn't need to be out there.
A few of our members were interested in [organizing a boycott]. So we got them together and we got some ideas about why we would do it and how we would go about it. We decided that there are three basic steps to a boycott. One is to educate the public on why we need to do this. The second is to give them specific actions to take. The third is to inform the manufacturers of what our actions are.
First off, we decided to target four of the major grocery chains in our area, and we sent volunteers out to each of them to canvass the grocery store shelves and see what was actually packaged in PVC. We got product names as well as sizes of containers, and we wrote all of these companies saying, "You've got a good product, but we don't like your packaging. Is it possible to change that? We see that there are other competitors who are [also] doing a good product, but aren't using PVC."
We had a press conference and [used] a lot of visuals; mountains of plastic bottles showing that one PVC bottle in this whole mountain ruined the recyclability of the entire mountain. We also showed that here are multiple products that are comparable, and only one is packaged in PVC. That means that manufacturers can use other things.
Then we got volunteers to stand out in front of grocery stores (we got permission, of course, to stand out front of grocery stores) with sandwich boards and hand out literature; do some face-to-face talking with consumers, getting them to start considering the packaging of a product, not just the brand or the functionality. [The volunteers were] handing out prearranged post cards to get them to write to companies. This went on for a month.
So we wrote all of these companies. We heard back from some of them saying that they are considering changing, or that they are probably going to change. We instantly put that word out in our newsletter. We wrote the company letters saying, "Hey, great community action. Thanks for being such good corporate citizens."
Then we were able to get some more press when we got good feedback from various companies. Ralston-Purina decided to not package their Deli Cat cat food in PVC anymore--they went to a natural HDPE which is much more recyclable.
We immediately wrote them a letter and said, "great deal, thanks a lot" and then talked about it in a press conference and got the local plastic recycler to say, "hey, that really helps our process a lot; thanks." So we got as much free advertising as we could.
CTB: After you had a positive response from one of the companies, you would have another press conference?
BP: If we could, yes; that wasn't always the case. But we would definitely write it up in our newsletter and send some information to local newspaper columnists that might be on our side and at least put a little blurb in the paper about it.
We just kept sending out information, and we tried to keep it extremely positive. So that was the nice thing about it. Yeah, we're concerned about the packaging, but, boy, there are some companies out there making progress and doing the right thing, and that positive part of it went as an example to those companies who weren't doing it right. We would write these other companies back and say, "Hey, we've got a new convert, you know, how 'bout you?"
CTB: Were these national corporations you wrote?
BP: Yes, yes.
CTB: So your local effort actually did make a national impact.
BP: Yes. We were surprised at how much impact just a few letters, postcards, or phone calls could make. And that was kind of fun. But I think the most important thing for our boycott was the fact that not only did we educate the local populace about it, but we made sure that that information got directly back to the manufacturer.
We sent to all of the companies all of the literature that we were passing out to people, and told them we were concerned about PVC.
CTB: So, how long has the boycott been going on now?
BP: It started in April of '94. We inventory the groceries every year, and put out a new list in our newsletter and to any other people who are interested. We're listed in the Boycott Quarterly, and we send out information to anyone who writes from there. So it's still active, and we encourage anybody and everybody either in our organization or within our sphere of influence to write us or call us, and tell us about any product changes that they see on the shelf, good or bad.
CTB: How many changes have you seen since the boycott began?
BP: Well Ralston-Purina, Helene Curtis; Proctor and Gamble, believe it or not, did made some changes in some of their lines. We were surprised at that. Another company whose headquarters is local has decided to remove PVC from their products, Nike. We've been working with them pretty heavily, so we're hoping that there's some influence there.
I don't think we can take credit for all of it, but I do think that we can at least take credit for encouraging what might have already been in the process. There's an organization that has a much larger sphere of influence than we do, Greenpeace. And they have been working on PVC also. So that educational avenue is helping our boycott.
CTB: For a group who has never done a boycott before, and who would like to try to start one, what advice would you give them?
BP: Don't think too small. Use every avenue you can for getting the word out. Doing your research is important because we need to be able to say, "these are the reasons why polyvinyl chloride is bad." We need to be able to answer all levels of questions, from the chemists as well as from the consumer.
For more information, contact: Recycling Advocates--32 NE 44th Ave., Portland, OR 97213-2301, (503)230-9513.
Example #2: A sample letter to be sent to a company being boycotted
Lara Wilkinson, J.D.
Coalition for Justice
1234 Main Street
Overland, Missouri 63114
Michael Barge, CEO
Clothes for Less Corporation
5678 Elm Street
Overland, Missouri, 63114
January 31, 2000
I am writing you on behalf of the Coalition for Justice to inform you that our Coalition intends to begin a boycott against your stores on February 21 of this year, due to your company's continuing policies of racial discrimination.
During the past two years, we have watched and documented a consistent policy of discrimination that occurs against African-Americans who choose to shop in your stores. They are consistently followed by security and are forced to show additional identification when purchasing an item. Neither of these occurrences happens with your other customers. We are outraged. Unless there is an immediate change in policy, we will follow through with this boycott.
As you know, we have attempted to negotiate with representatives from your store in the past six months without success. Therefore, we feel we have no recourse but to follow this path. We are being joined in our efforts by the following organizations:
- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
- The Simply Equal Coalition
- The St. Louis Interfaith Council
- The National Organization for Women
- The Student Government of University of Missouri-St. Louis
- The American Civil Liberties Union
- And, of course, we fully expect the support of individuals of conscience in Overland and throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area. We intend to maintain the boycott until such a time as you acquiesce to treat all people with dignity within your stores, or until our efforts force their closing.
If you wish to negotiate with the Coalition for Justice, please contact me immediately at (314) 555-1234. If an agreement has not been reached by February 21, the boycott will proceed as planned.
Lara Wilkinson, J.D.
President, Coalition for Justice
Cc: Jerilyn Van der Tuig, Director of Personnel
Example #3: The Buycott Project
This article, written by Laura Brown, was taken from the 7/17/97 web issue of Atlanta's Southern Voice newspaper. It is reprinted here with permission from the editor.
"Buycott" project identifies gay-friendly businesses
A new program by the Georgia Equality Project will help consumers and potential employees identify businesses that do not discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Volunteers for the "Buycott Project" will survey companies ranging from small "mom and pop stores" to large national corporations about their non-discrimination practices and publish results of the surveys in a widely-distributed handbook, said Cindy Abel, GEP executive director.
"Our goal is to have 100 local names and then put out the first edition of the Buycott Project handbook for Georgia, followed by monthly and quarterly updates," she said.
GEP will also distribute stickers that businesses can display to show support for "fairness and equality" and small cards customers can leave behind to show their "conscious choice" to patronize stores listed in the guide, Abel said.
While many large companies publish their employment practices, volunteers will ask small businesses without written non-discrimination policies to sign a card stating they treat customers and employees "equally and fairly, regardless of race, gender, age, religion, disability status, sexual orientation or identity, national origin, and marital status."
Abel said the project will help educate businesses about the discrimination lesbians and gays face, and can "ultimately help legislative debates by providing a way of supplying candidates with documentation of their constituents' and businesses' support for fairness."
The survey card also gives businesses the opportunity to request diversity training or help from GEP in developing non-discrimination policies.
"From the standpoint of employers, [having these policies] lets employees know you value their skills, training, and other qualities related to how they perform in the workplace more than other qualities which aren't related," Abel said. "Productivity itself is enhanced because all of your employees' energy can be focused on their job, not on keeping a secret."
"This is an opportunity for the gay community to show its strength by directing business to those that don't discriminate based on sexual orientation in services or employment," said Don George, volunteer Buycott Project chair.
GEP introduced the Buycott Project at its quarterly Town Hall Meeting in June and is currently seeking additional volunteers. Though initially scheduled for July 16, special volunteer training for the program will be held August 5 from 7-9 p.m. at the Atlanta Lambda Center.